Five Easy Ways to Foster a Healthy Child Adult Relationship with Adult Children
Were you a little bit blindsided by how tricky relationships with your adult children would be? I sure was! I thought I knew how it would look to have relationships with adult children. My vision was completely off. The fact is, one of the most significant transitions in life is that of learning to mother your kids as they become adults.
Letting go of grown children is H.A.R.D.
We don’t often talk about the challenges of transitioning your kids from young people into the early years of adulthood and eventually complete independence. I often feel like shouting, “Nobody told me how hard this would be!” The truth is that we have resources galore for when a toddler acts up or a school-aged child needs some direction, but learning how to parent adult kids is just not discussed in our culture in the same way. And that has left me feeling very alone in this phase of life. As I talk to my friends and my therapist and share my experience in parenting adult kids, I have learned that I am certainly not alone.
You may be saying, “but my kids are grown; I am no longer parenting them,” and that is true. Your role as a parent to your children changes as they become adults. But what doesn’t change is how much we love them and want what’s best for them. If we learn to nurture the relationships with our adult children, we can become their friend, ally, and healthy-sounding board. Here are five ways you can foster healthy relationships with your adult children.
1 – Remember that You are Different People
As my children have grown into adulthood, I unknowingly assumed that they were looking at life through the same lens that I was using. The down and dirty fact is that my child is not me. All of my children are unique and individual and have very different experiences in life that have shaped them into who they are. Those experiences are different than mine. I was a great mom and made sure I met their needs in wonderful and unique ways, yet they grew up in a different generation with different life experiences than mine. Now that they have become adults, their perspective on life is not the same as mine was at their age.
The cold, hard truth
Just as our parents wanted us to have a better experience in life than we did, I dream that my kids won’t have challenges and difficulties. Unfortunately, they need those challenges and problems to continue shaping them into the marvelous adults they will continue to be! As much as I think I know what’s best for them, they are now adults and have to learn on their own what works and what doesn’t. And what worked for me isn’t always what works for them. I know – hard stuff, isn’t it? But stick with me. All this hard work comes with a reward.
2 – Child adult conflict is natural in a normal parent adult child relationship
We all know that conflict is natural with a toddler learning independence and a middle schooler needing separation from mom and dad. It is critical to remember that a child in their 20’s and older will also crave independence, which will sometimes cause conflict. Think back to when you were learning how to navigate adult life on your own. Do you remember when your parents would try to tell you how you should do something? Maddening, wasn’t it? I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve done the same thing with my kids. I mean, I know more, right? So it makes sense that I should share my wisdom.
Sharing wisdom in a healthy way
The fact is, you can share your wisdom with your adult kids in a healthy way. It’s all in the delivery. If your adult kid feels that you’re critical of their decisions, they are likely to shut down. No one likes to feel they’re being criticized or picked apart. When you communicate, give plenty of space for them to share their experiences and reasons. Be sure and practice plenty of grace when you share your wisdom. If you are sensitive to their feelings and experiences as you communicate, you are far more likely to be heard and appreciated.
Communicating with adult kids can feel like a minefield filled with frustration and hurt, but if you slow down, take your time and listen, then share insights without judgment, you will begin to build a new bond. Don’t underestimate the value of keeping a poker face when you hear things that make your skin crawl and be sure you’re taking care of your own mental health, too.
Practice Healthy Communication
One way I have healthy communication with my adult kids is to spend time together doing something we both enjoy. My daughter and I love mini road trips to explore new shops in quaint towns not far from home. Just as they were when she was a teen, those car rides are a perfect place for us to have a conversation and share thoughts and feelings.
My sons love food! So, of course, it makes perfect sense to take offer an occasional dinner out, on me! Dinner is the ideal time to talk about what’s going on in their lives and allows them to ask for my input.
3 -Make room for significant others in your relationships with adult children
When my adult kids began having adult relationships with a significant other, it was hard for me to find my place. I remember saying to my therapist, “I feel like I’ve given custody of my child to a new family,” as that child expanded into a new role in life, as a significant other to a spouse. I felt unbalanced and out of place and wasn’t sure what my new role was.
The truth is, it is normal to feel displaced. But remind yourself that there’s enough love for everyone! Just as your kid may have had to adjust to a baby brother or sister and you assured them that your love for them didn’t change, we now get to enjoy that experience for ourselves in reverse. A new spouse or significant other in the picture does not mean that your child loves you less. There’s enough love to go around. Your adult children need to know that you feel secure in your relationship.
If your child feels you will be critical or unwelcoming to their new partner, they will likely keep a new relationship under wraps. That’s okay, too. Continue to be open to meeting and accepting a new person, and eventually they will open that door to you. Remember to be gracious and kind as you meet this new person and make every effort to know them for who they are. Now is not the time to be critical or throw your opinions at either of them, but to welcome them with open arms and share in your mutual love for your kid.
A long-term plan
When your child decides to marry or form a more permanent relationship with their significant other, remember how important it is to your relationship with this new person. Pitting your child in the middle between you and the new spouse is never a good idea, and no one will win. It may be one of the hardest things you’ll do, but you must work extra hard to build a relationship with the new partner. If you can have your own relationship, then conflicts that inevitably happen will be much easier to work through when you can go directly to the source instead of relying on your child to mediate. My therapist has been instrumental in helping me form and keep relationships healthy with my children-in-law.
4 – Set and hold boundaries in relationships with your adult children
“Boundaries like the terminator, delivery like Mr. Rogers” is one of my therapist’s favorite quotes, and boy, have I put hours and hours into learning how to set and hold boundaries. The simple fact is that the better I have become at setting boundaries and keeping them, the better my relationships with my grown kids have become. It may be as simple as not answering the phone after a specific time of night or asking them for help cleaning up after a dinner visit. These boundaries make adult relationships so much easier.
Along with the small boundaries, there will come big ones, too. You may find yourself being asked for money or expected to drop everything to care for a grandchild. If you can set a boundary in a kind and loving way, then you will feel less conflict in your overall relationship. Your children may not even know that they are asking more of you than you’d like. If you haven’t communicated those boundaries, it is not fair to expect your adult kids to follow them.
“Boundaries like the Terminator, delivery like Mr. Rogers”
A great way to set a boundary is to have a kind and loving conversation that allows you to hold your ground and, at the same time, shows them what your expectation is of them. For example, if you are only available to watch your grandkids three days per week, communicate that in a kind and loving way and then hold to it. You do not need to be available for the additional two days. When they ask anyway, tell them with a Mr. Rogers level of kindness that you’re not able to help out. When your adult kids know what the boundaries are and that you will stick to them, they are much more likely to respect them.
Boundaries can be even more critical when you have an adult child still living in your home. Setting agreements around things like laundry, car parking, visitors, etc., are all important to keep the day-to-day routine running smoothly. No one wants to feel they’ve been taken advantage of, and no one wants to feel they are a burden. Setting these boundaries can be difficult at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Take it from my experience. It’s true.
5 – Keep communication open
As your children grow from teens into adults, it is essential to remember to stay in touch. Don’t be afraid to use their language and keep in contact through text or social media. Reaching out to your adult kids in a comfortable way goes a long way in keeping communication open. We all want our kids to call on us when they need us, and we all want to feel important and needed in return. Make it easy for them to do that by staying in communication.
Grown children who ignore their parents
You may have a kid who doesn’t communicate well, and that’s okay. Continue to do your part and let them know that you are there for them and you love them. Try not to take their lack of communication personally. Some young adults need to feel more separation from their parents to feel successful in the real world.
Emotional Neediness – a big no-no in parenting adult children
Don’t depend on your adult kids to fulfill your emotional needs. Having your own life, independent of them, will help to make sure you’re not behaving in an emotionally needy way. Learning to let go is not easy, so if you’re having a hard time with this phase of life, don’t lean on your kids to help you through it. Find a local empty nest support group or talk to a friend who understands. Therapy has been fantastic for me, and I couldn’t recommend it more!
Just like when you were dating, a little mystery around your life and schedule can make you a bit more intriguing. It’s okay for your adult kids to know that you have your own life with your interests. And if you don’t have those things, now is the time to find them! After all, it’s never too late to start a new creative hobby.
Finding a balance in communication is tricky but is so important. Remember your boundaries, and don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the mindset of having to answer every call and text immediately. Not every text is a crisis, after all. You are doing your grown kids a favor in helping them know that and respect that. Also, please don’t spend all of your spare time contacting them over every little thing. They have their own lives and can’t and shouldn’t respond to all of your immediate needs, either.
Remember the End Goal
Healthy relationships with your adult chidren
Remember what you want out of your relationship with your adult children. I desire to have my kids be a part of my everyday life and spend time with them weekly or monthly. I’d love to be part of the big and some of the little moments. I want them to know that I trust them to make their own decisions. This meaningful relationship doesn’t come overnight, just like potty training didn’t. It takes research, dedication, trial and error, and persistence to put it all together and have success.
Don’t be afraid to ask for input
When in doubt, let your kids know that you are doing your best in learning how to have a good relationship with them. Ask them what you can do to continue to respect them and build on the positives. Remind them that this is new territory for both of you and that you value their input. The truth is that you’ll both make mistakes as you figure it out. Still, good, solid communication and healthy boundaries will go a long way in developing that unique relationship you both crave.
Wrapping it up
What we all would like to have with our adult kids is a loving friendship. How do you relate well with your best friends? You are likely kind, forgiving, and truthful (when necessary) in a way that values who they are. It’s no different with your adult kids, but building this new and rewarding relationship can take time and energy. And you will make mistakes. But you won’t be sorry if you put in the work! If you are looking for a great therapist to help you through these difficult years, check out the Psychology Today website for someone in your area.
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